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What you need to know for 01/21/2018

Editorial: School was right to edit grad speech

Editorial: School was right to edit grad speech

Amsterdam district had a right and an obligation to cut religious advocacy from graduate's speech

Sometimes the best way to view a situation is to place yourself in the position of another.

That applies well to the case of Amsterdam salutatorian Rebekah Izzo, who is upset that the school district edited some parts of her graduation address because of concerns about religious proselytizing.

Picture yourself as someone of another religion or someone with no religious beliefs. How would you feel listening to a speech promoting something you don't believe in? Would you be offended at being exposed to someone else's personal views at what's supposed to be a celebration of educational achievement? You probably would be.

Imagine you're one of the parents or grandparents in the audience, who just came to honor a member of their own family, not to be converted.

Picture yourself as a fellow classmate, who might be looking for some inspirational words from one of the smartest kids in the class on the last day of high school. If you're not inspired by the Bible, as Ms. Izzo is, then her speech doesn't work for you, either.

Finally, think about being a member of the school administration, which is trying to present a commencement exercise that is enjoyable and meaningful to everyone in the audience, not just a select one or few.

We admire Ms. Izzo for her achievements and are pleased for her that she found spiritual inspiration along the way.

But her claims that school officials somehow trampled on her First Amendment right to freedom of speech by editing the promotion of her religion out of her address are grounded neither in consideration of her audience nor in the courts.

Courts have consistently found that graduations constitute school functions, which gives school officials the right to regulate the content of the speeches and to review and approve them beforehand.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the 1999 case of Cole v. Oroville Union High School District, for instance, ruled that because a graduation ceremony is not a free-speech forum, people might construe religious messages as an endorsement of that message from the district.

The court further concluded that school districts had an obligation under the Constitution's Establishment Clause to ensure that sectarian speech and prayer were not part of the graduation ceremonies.

Ms. Izzo's claims that the editing of her speech demonstrates that the country is moving dangerously in the direction of suppressing rights and opinions are also off the mark. She might be right; it might be moving in that direction. But not because of what happened here.

Despite the concessions, Ms. Izzo was able to deliver an articulate speech that was inspirational and introspective, but that didn’t cross the line of preaching a particular religious viewpoint to those who had a right not to hear it.

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